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Exact Chronology of Early Societies

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ECHOES (Exact Chronology of Early Societies)

Reporting period: 2018-08-01 to 2020-01-31

Exact Chronology of Early Societies (ECHOES) is a 5-year project based at the University of Groningen. The phenomenon it seeks to investigate is large cosmic radiation strikes on the Earth. These radiation impacts, often known as Miyake Events (MEs), are both a threat and potentially a benefit to society as a whole. The events cause production of the isotope radiocarbon to increase dramatically in the atmosphere and, through photosynthesis, these enriched levels are incorporated by growing trees. Moreover, archives of wood exist within which the age of each tree-ring is precisely known, so the spikes in radiocarbon concentration can be dated to the exact year. The four discovered so far happened in 775, 994 and 1218 CE and in 3372 BCE. Such intense radiation strikes pose a threat to modern society as they would likely damage satellite and telecommunication systems. ECHOES aims to detect more of these MEs and to determine whether there is any pattern to their occurrence, so future communication networks can be safeguarded. Furthermore, the fact these events leave distinct radiocarbon signatures in contemporaneous plant material, and that the years of their occurrence are easily determined, mean they also offer the tantalising prospect of exact-year archaeological dating. By finding an ME in an old wooden artefact, for example, and matching its radiocarbon signature with one in the known-age archive, it should be possible to date that object to the exact year. ECHOES aims to make a number of these matches, and then use them to anchor the timelines of early civilisations such as the Maya and the Egyptians.
The ECHOES team has begun applying the new exact-year dating technique to contexts from both the Old and New Worlds. We have already uncovered spikes in radiocarbon production in ancient wooden structures from early Russia, and are now focusing on materials from pre-Columbian America. Articles that include some exact-year dates for these contexts are currently in preparation. In addition, the ECHOES team have conducted in-depth analysis of the likely temporal patterning of MEs. For this work, the project data scientist has already had three papers accepted for publication in which he analyses existent radiocarbon data and predicts the years in which new MEs may be found. Our PhD student has submitted his first publication on the patterning of MEs with respect to the 11-year solar cycle. His findings will assist with both uncovering new spikes and understanding the origin of the radiation events.
We are pleased with the progress we have made setting up the novel dating technique. We are also very excited about the implications of some of the exact-year dates we have already achieved. Over the next 30 months, it is clear that a number of key archaeological sites of the Old and New Worlds will be fixed on the calendrical time-scale for the first time, sometimes ending decades of debate, and other times extending the exact chronology of early civilisations back several centuries. Moreover, it is envisaged that during the second half of this project the origin and nature of MEs will become apparent, and hence their potential harmful, and beneficial, impacts more clearly defined.